So lucky little me, I went and got myself a Kinect (along with yet another 360, since they have a terrible tendency to blow themselves up). Microsoft say they've sold more than 2.5 million units of this bad boy since it was launched, and I can tell you that it's like magic. Actually, better than magic - it's like Minority Report.
Y'see, you have to get used to it. It does work straight away, but you have to tune it for the ideal experience. You have to teach it who you are, a tortuous process that involves assuming all manner of undignified positions. It's a bit like an invasive airport search, or being measured for trousers in a way that seems just a little too invasive. It's so Kinect can recognise you in different lighting positions and angles. So they SAY.
Navigation in the Kinect system (once it's rolling) is like a trip to Hogwarts. Just wave, or use voice commands "XBOX KINECT" - the thing responds immediately, dropping you into the Kinect Hub, the menu system for all the Kinect based McGubbins. Hold up your hand, and your position is tracked with a hand cursor and you just pause briefly over your selection to fire that selection up.
So far, I've only had a chance to play Kinect Adventures, which is surprisingly a lot of fun - even for a crutch-bound fatty with little to no agility to speak of. In fact, I'd go as far as to say the Kinect may show potential as a rehabilitation tool - you don't get to omit the leg motions from the games on account of some weak excuse like "oh well I don't have any legs".* The games are simple and accessible, perfect casual gamer fodder.
It's easy to get carried away with the Kinect's mystical powers, and it is lovely to not have to put up with any irritating controller at all (especially one with a glowing ball on the top). There are some disappointments, though. First of all is the amount of space required. You need a LOT, and most regular folks don't have a lot of space. Second, and this really chaps my crack, is that the voice commands are not in play universally across the xbox platform. Apparently you can use voice to control videos that you play via Zune and Microsoft's downloads - but you can't use them to control videos you might be streaming over your network in your video library. You can't voice control DVD's either. I'm hoping that future dashboard updates will fix these glaring omissions.
Now what does the Kinect mean to the serious gamer? Right now, roughly two points shy of diddly-squat, if I'm any judge. It's too new, and developers haven't had the time to find ways to really put it to use. I imagine the motion detection will remain firmly entrenched in the world of casual and family games - although it does seem very precise, I can't see it being precise enough to use in an FPS - though I suspect that it would be fun to shoot folks with your fingers. However, the voice recognition could prove very useful, in games like Rainbow Six being able to give your squad voice commands instead of pressing stupid button combinations would clearly lead to more fluid and immersive gameplay.
Really, we'll have to wait and see what the world's game developers come up with to make use of this astonishing bit of technology. It's cool, it's friendly, but will it become an essential? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I'll wait for my copy of Dance Central to arrive and see how easy it is with a cripply leg. It says something for the Kinect that it makes me WANT to try to dance to hits of Lady Gaga with a broken ankle.
* Now I'm curious to find out how the thing responds to amputees. If there are any Gainboy readers out there with less than the regular complement of limbs, do feel free to get in touch. Or if you have more than the regular complement of limbs, come to think of it. Usual address, of course.